July 8, 2009

Not in my Backyard!

"Israel can determine for itself... what's in their interest and what they decide to do relative to Iran and anyone else". Joe Biden's permissive remarks regarding a potential Israeli strike on Iranian nuclear facilities enjoyed a lot of attention in the mainstream media. Biden's remarks were perhaps only eclipsed by the President's swift disavowal of them. Nevertheless, neither President Obama nor Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Admiral Mike Mullen, ruled out military force as an option. Iran, on its part, considers an Israeli attack to be an American attack.

There was equally significant news on this very subject coming from the Middle East that was not widely reported in the United States, however. Two American allies, Iraq and Saudi Arabia, distanced themselves from the scheme. These two countries hold the key to an Israeli assault on Iran, as Israel is more likely to fly through their airspace to carry out the operation rather than go through Syrian or Turkish territories. The pair is predictably wary of Tehran's retaliation, which is bound to be profoundly destabilizing to the region.

A July 5th report by the Sunday Times suggested that Riyadh had, in fact, given Tel Aviv the green light to fly its bombers through Saudi airspace. But Saudi officials and analysts vehemently deny the reports, describing the potential strike as a "belligerent activity." The Iraqi government went even further warning that "any penetration of Iraqi airspace by an Israeli national would be considered an attack against Iraq," and a violation of its sovereignty. Hassan al-Sanid, a member of Iraq’s parliamentary committee on security and defense, claimed that under the Status Of ForcesAgreement (S.O.F.A), "Iraqi land, sea, and air shall not be used as a launching or transit point for attacks against other countries."

So, what is happening exactly? I have a five possible explanations. First, the American Vice President is being his usual self, not committing to the President's diplomatic discipline. Second, President Obama is keenly aware of the devastating repercussions across the region of an Israeli attack on Iran. Third, and perhaps most importantly, the so-called anti-Iran Arab-Israeli alliance is not as solid as some of its cheerleaders wish it to be. Not only does it lack any popular foundation, but Arab governments will not be caught collaborating with the Jewish State against the Islamic Republic. Iraq, though likely to be on good terms with Washington for a few years, is acutely sensitive to the needs and concerns of its more powerful neighbor. Saudi Arabia does not wish to experience the wrath of the Ayatollahs, should the attack come via Riyadh. Fourth, a good cop, bad cop scenario may be in place. Washington may well be emphasizing its relative benign attitude towards Iran through stressing Israel's sovereign will and the lack of an American green light. Fifth, and more likely, the regional actors, the US included, do not seem to have a clue what to do next regarding Iran, hence the conflicting statements. All options are bad; that of which they are certain.


grant marlier said...

I think you may be right that fifth scenario is more likely, but only to an extent. I think its actually probably more a combination of different elements from all of your explanations.

I also think a good deal of Obama's discussions with Putin dealt with what to do about Iran. It will be interesting to see what position China and Russia take, if a tougher UNSC resolution on Iran is presented.

But in the end, I think the real question might be what would the consequences of strikes be? Could Israel actually eliminate the nuclear program, or just set it back? If they just set it back, what would the consequences be?

Based upon the uncertainty of the overall effectiveness of limited strikes, would Israel actually consider a more widespread campaign?

Yasser M. El-Shimy said...

I didn't mean to imply the scenarios are mutually exclusive. You are right about the combination of all five scenarios.

My guess, however uninformed of the intelligence, is that had Israel been able to repeat the Osirak operation of 1981, where they completely destroyed Iraq's nuclear reactor, they would have done that with Iran already. They have also done it with the Syrians. The problem Tel Aviv faces is that there is too little information on the actual capabilities of Iran, where they are, and how to target them effectively. In other words, Israel cannot take out Iran's nuclear program completely. Should they attack, nonetheless, they would trigger a maelstorm of devastation across the region for no apparent gain.

As for the widespread campaign, it is not even an option. Israel has no military (or demographic capacity) to invade Iran. They might do one of two things (both of which will create more problems than solutions). First, they can launch a two-fold campaign against Hizbullah and Hamas (historical experince demonstrates their inability to deal with them decisively). Second, they can bomb every thing that is of value in Iran (assuming Iran has not already acquired the S-300 surface-to-air missiles from Moscow). Under both scenarios, Gaza, Lebanon and/or Iran would be perceived, particularly in the Muslim world, as the victim of Israeli aggression, while Israel would not be able to irrevocably get rid of Tehran's nuclear program. Again, more problems than solutions.

grant marlier said...

You might be right. But some suggest that Israel's last foray into Lebanon (2006) was meant to push Hezbullah back far enough to minimize their missile range. Hamas has been under a blockade for months, Iran in internally unstable, and the price of oil is relatively low.

Further, I'm not sure the present Israeli leadership cares about how they're perceived in the Muslim world. I think they are more interested in their own self-defense - as they see it.

Faisal said...

la gebt el tayha ya sh2ee2.

Either way, I dont think anyone's about to do anything just yet. But just in case the Israelis do take action, I think retaliation from the Iranians is going to be minimal; possibly in the form of more attacks from the armed groups in or around Israel... maybe a missile or two.

Also, Iraq is going to be more lenient towards Iran than most people think they are: the attitude in Iraq right now is that Iraqi leadership is in close contact and has open channels of communications with Tehran.

The reasons behind this idea are many and, almost amusingly, are related to the terrorism that takes place inside Iraq and the treatment of Iranian citizens in the country vis-a-vis the Iraqi nationals (amongst other reasons).

As a staunch proponent of the idea that Israel should not exist as a state, I honestly hope that if they dare do something, then the Iranians give them hell in response (even though I abhor everything the Iranian government stands for and despise the idea of their "Islamic Revolution").

Yasser M. El-Shimy said...

To Grant, you are absolutely correct about Israel's indifference to its perceptions in the Arab world. I was refrencing rather perceptions of America, which would be held responsible for the Israeli attack (guilt by association). Additionally, allow me to disagree a bit about Gaza and Lebanon. First, Israel's pronounced goals of the 2006 War against Hizbullah was to destroy the movement's infrastructure, eliminate their ability to launch rockets, and recaputre the detained Israeli soldiers. None of the goals came to fruition. Hizbullah is stronger than it was, the soldiers were exchanged on Hizbullah's terms and Hizbullah claims more missiles with longer range than before the war. Second, the pronounced aims of the Gaza war were to recapture Gil'ad Shalit and oust Hamas from power. Neither goal was achieved. In both cases, Israel inflicted a lot of damage, but to no apparent achievement.

To Faisal, why do you the Iranian response will be minimal?